It amazes me that a question I still get asked a lot is whether it's possible to 'have it all'. Truth is, I find this an incredibly difficult question to answer. Just what exactly is that 'all' that people are referring to... that they are clearly so keen to 'have'. Of course, the elusive everything in question is an entirely subjective package. My 'all' might well be another's 'lacking', and vice versa. We are all, thankfully, individuals with unique sets of priorities, values and goals.
So this is purely a personal view. I see work as part of life, not as separate from it - and I don't see that as a negative. In fact, for me this approach has been super advantageous. It's an active choice to feel positive about how busy I am in reality. It means I am always switched on, engaged and interested in issues connected to work and I'm lucky, I guess, that the industry I'm in is so interesting and so tangible. Media is everywhere, it's inter-connected, it doesn't compartmentalise. So how can I? And vice versa, the skills and experience we develop in our careers (in my case, creative thinking, planning, communication and negotiation) we can also apply more broadly across our lives and relationships.
Work-life balance is, in my view, a pretty retro concept. The expression was first used in 1970s England, then crossed the pond to 1980s America to package up the predicament of workers putting in increasing hours. And it never really evolved. It has, however, become part of the common cultural currency, snapped up by media debate on increasing work hours and, more recently, the blurred boundaries of an always-on, BlackBerry-addicted workforce (to this conversation I echo Eric Schmidt's comment: "there's an 'off' button. Learn how to use it").
My major niggle with the concept is that it attempts to neatly package the realms of work and personal life into distinct boxes - but it just doesn't work like that. We don't split our working and non-working roles into totally separate personas, ready to flit between them as and when necessary. And nor should we. That would suggest a prevalence of multiple personality disorders in society - surely no good thing.
A new Randstad study on work-life balance in the UK finds that 61% of Londoners are satisfied with their work-life balance, despite working the longest hours. It's a revealing finding - shorter working hours may not be as crucial to contentment as believed. In many ways, I think the onus is on employers to ensure the actual work is as interesting and rewarding as possible. We're fortunate at Maxus in that our work is fast-paced and exciting, and we back this up with lots of dynamic training and career progression - plus flexible working for parents and carers.
What I'd love to see evolve is a working ethos that allows employees to take as much or as little out of the office with them as suits that individual. Rather than work-life balance, let's try to introduce a more holistic "work-life integration" approach, that allows us to be one person at work and at home, bringing our ideals and values to the table wherever it sits.
Yes, there will be employees who want 'just a job' and that's absolutely valid - as long as they offer 100% commitment whilst they're at work. But if you want to live and breathe your career in all aspects of your life, that's also great. Let's let each individual decide on the pattern that suits their aspirations and circumstances. Let's try to offer flexibility for those who need it, career progression for those who seek and earn it - and ultimately value each person for the unique perspective they offer.